The Disabled Body Beautiful

The following article originally appeared in the ILMI E-Bulletin on October 2, 2020.

“I am never going to conform to society’s requirements and I’m thrilled because I am blissfully released from all that crap. That’s the liberation of disfigurement.”

-From “The Sexual Politics of Disability,” by Tom Shakespeare et. al.

I know I wasn’t the only one who seriously enjoyed last night’s chat with Clara, a disabled BIPOC fashion model and blogger who runs the Rollin Funky blog and Instagram page. This woman is glamorous, vivacious, and has a massive collection of HIGH HEEL shoes- yes, that’s right. As a wheelchair user, she is at an advantage on the runway; she doesn’t need to worry about stumbling.
I have never worn high heels in my life. The appeal of Carrie Bradshaw’s stocked closet was always lost on me, and with it, a seeming rite of passage to womanhood. Can you be sexy if you will never walk like Rihanna?
Fashion and the cultural norms represented by it have an inescapable hold- somehow it was not until I was 26, after finally ditching the perpetual runners I’d had since childhood for knee-high boots and Doc Martens, when I realised how infantilised I had felt- by shoes.
I had come to see my disability as liberating me from the shackles of societal beauty expectations. While able-bodied teens around me were developing eating disorders in their pursuit of the perfect body, I was released from suffering the illusion that my body could ever conform to such ideals represented in the media. Having a disability helped me see through the bullshit. I had to stand firm in my belief that there was no such thing as the perfect body and that all bodies were beautiful by virtue of being spirit incarnate. “And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?” as Whitman my saviour sang.
And yet such media representations of able-bodied beauty are insidious. That’s why we need people like Clara making sure we are represented and seen in this sphere, which also extends to the runway of life. When we are seen truly embracing our bodies, our mere presence and existence is defiant in and of itself. When we love our bodies despite being told otherwise, we liberate others from these misconceptions.
As Clara said last night: “I think it’s important to embrace your body and have self-love for your body. A lot of the time when we hear about body positivity we hear it in relation to size- we don’t necessarily hear it in relation to different aspects of ability. Sometimes people automatically think that if you are differently abled you can’t be body positive and you can’t have self-love. I think it’s not true, it’s society’s ideas, this wanting to fix something, and make you feel like you’re not worth gold, and you most certainly are. You are everything that you are, and you do not need to be fixed.”

Author: Maryam
Maryam is a writer, freelance journalist, jazz singer, disability activist and a Gemini Vegetarian in the words of Elle Woods. Right now she would like to be in Venice sipping an Aperol Spritz or swimming in the sea anywhere. She is an INFP who loves origami and reading beautiful books when she should be writing. She is currently a PhD student in the Department of Law in Maynooth, focusing on Disability Law and Media Policy. She holds a BA in English from Trinity College Dublin and an MA in Journalism from TUD. She is a member and previous staff member of Independent Living Movement Ireland. You can also find her engaging in discussions on spirituality and mental health with her Baba here, having girl chats with her disabled BFF here, and talking about the heavier issues of politics and disability with her co-founders of Turning Tide Media here.

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